Reports in recent days described the deluge of phone calls that members of Congress have received about the bailout legislation. By all accounts, virtually all callers have been demanding that Wall Street not be bailed out.
In the wake of the failed House vote yesterday, the vociferous and seemingly broad-based opposition of constituents has again been noted as an important factor in congressmen’s decision.
Putting aside for a moment Congress’ responsibility not only to their constituents but to the broader world, as well as the likelihood that some sort of "bailout" will likely unravel those very constituents’ pocketbooks, still this opposition bears more serious consideration than it is getting.
For years major news sources have been reporting gross excesses in corporate salaries, while the rank-and-file have seen their benefits diminished and their job security threatened, all under the guise of efficiency and best practices. At the same time their quality of life has been diminished by rising prices which are themselves often not the result of necessity but corporate greed.
It should come as no surprise, then, that even as the market has prospered over the last ten years, an ever-deepening outrage has been simmering beneath the surface. The idea that the government might be letting "fat cats" get away with it yet again has caused the pot finally to boil.
There is a certain paradox in all of this, as the party largely responsible for this mess was elected by a lot of those who are angry. As they say, you get what you pay for. (Unfortunately, so does the rest of the world.)
And clearly, some sort of bailout package needs to be passed. But part of that package should be a definitive commitment on the part of Congress to undertake immediately a thorough investigation of corporate business practices, with a promise to put forward legislation that addresses the inequities that many Americans are experiencing.
Every crisis is an opportunity; in this situation, hopefully it can be an opportunity for the underbelly of our free market system to be exposed and new protections enacted.
Jim McDermott, SJ